An attitude of gratitude not only brightens your mood, but it is has been scientifically proven to improve your health and boost your immune system. Thank you, science. Whether you keep a gratitude journal or take a few moments each day to reflect on your blessings, focusing on what you DO have instead of what you don’t, can have a tremendous impact.
Here are 5 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude :
1. Boosts physical health. A leading expert in the field, Dr. Robert Emmons, conducted a study in 2003 that found people practicing gratitude showed an increase in exercise, improved sleeping quality, decrease in physical ailments and less pain than those that did not. Another study conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2009, showed that grateful participants exhibited lower levels of cortisol in their bodies which resulted in a reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure. Gratitude practices decrease risk for heart attack and coronary disease. Now, that’s something to be grateful for.
2. Improves psychological health. Dr. Emmons’ study also found participants with higher levels of gratitude experienced decreased depression and anxiety. According to the 2009 study at NIH, feelings associated with gratitude increase activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain and activate serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. When you’re grateful, it elevates your mood and level of confidence. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
3. Retrains your brain. Due to our innate survival skills, our brains naturally tend to focus on threats, worries and negative events in our lives. Luckily, our brains are easily distracted and have a hard time focusing on both the positive AND negative. So once we start focusing on things to be grateful for, our brain will continue to look for more. So instead of leaping down the pessimistic rabbit hole, your mind creates a cycle of optimism and gratitude.
4. Helps relationships: A study published in Emotion in 2004 found that expressions of gratitude and appreciation increased the likelihood of new relationships and improved the state of current ones. A simple “thank you” can go a long way. Although, I am not opposed to grand gestures *wink wink*.
5. Better sleep quality. Spending just a few minutes every night jotting down a few things you are grateful for will improve duration and quality of sleep, according to a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing in 2011. Makes sense…it’s easier to have a peaceful snooze when it’s all good in the ‘hood.
Maybe you are cosmically grateful for this awesome and life-sustaining planet we live on. Or maybe you’re just thankful that you managed to get out of the house with matching socks and remembered your keys.
Either way, be grateful for all blessings, big AND small.
Your health will thank you.
Jenn Lyn, MSW, LCSW, CCH
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
SHE Magazine USA Correspondent